Written by John Montana.
Andre Bazin began writing about film in 1943 and was a co-founder of the renowned film magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 1951, along with Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. Bazin was a major force in post-World War II film studies and criticism. The long-held view of Bazin’s critical system, is that he argued for films that depicted what he saw as “objective reality” (such as documentaries and films of the Italian neorealism school) and directors who made themselves “invisible” (such as Howard Hawks). He advocated the use of deep focus (Orson Welles), wide shots (Jean Renoir) and the “shot-in-depth”, and preferred what he referred to as “true continuity” through mise-en-scène over experiments in editing and visual effects. This placed him in opposition to film theory of the 1920s and 1930s, which emphasized how the cinema could manipulate reality. The concentration on objective reality, deep focus, and lack of montage are linked to Bazin’s belief that the interpretation of a film or scene should be left to the spectator. Bazin also preferred long takes to montage editing. He believed that less was more, and that narrative was key to great film. Bazin, who was influenced by personalism, believed that a film should represent a director’s personal vision. Bazin also is known as a proponent of “appreciative criticism”, the notion that only critics who like a film should review it, thus encouraging constructive criticism.
So let’s discuss these points of Bazin’s theory, and compare them to what is currently going on in Hollywood these days.
- Films should depict “objective reality” – In my opinion, I think Mr. Bazin would be very proud of where Hollywood is today with honoring Documentaries and promoting them as well. There is an entire category in the Oscars for documentaries and there is an entire audience that is rabid for these films. We, as a film audience, have evolved into a society that not only accepts doc’s, but also sees them as an integral part of the world in which we live in today. The doc’s that are made today are, for the most part, expose and shine a very bright light on cruel and corrupt people and companies. And once that happens, then changes occur…which is the entire point!!
- Directors Should Make Themselves Invisible – Well this is a tough one, because in today’s world, it is all about “self-promotion”. Because the industry and the media thrives on sensationalism, so self promotion is rewarded. So the film makers feel the need to make splashy films that highlight how wonderful they are, or how well the film was shot…They rightly believe that this will lead to more work…which it does most of the time. And getting more work is really the entire issue, especially when you need to get OPM (Other People’s Money) to make your next film.
- Advocated Deep Focus – This is a technique that uses a large depth of field…the front to back range of focus in an image…and how clear and sharp everything is. The foreground, middle-ground and background are ALL in focus, and is obtained thru the camera lens using a small aperture and huge amounts of light. Here is an example: In this shot you can see how even the building way in the back is in focus. I think that this is a technique that Hollywood has embraced in recent years. I cannot think of a movie that I have seen recently where the background was blurred. Now I am sure that you will be able to come up with dozens of films where deep focus is NOT used. However, I think it has become more acceptable of a filming technique.
- True Continuity throughmise-en-scène – This is tricky because with the editing software we have available to editors now, there really is no way of telling if a scene has been spliced for continuity or not. And with the way films are made these days, where the images and scenes move so fast, that mise-en-scène is most likely a lost art. Not to say that some directors don’t still use this technique. I just think it is easier to edit continuity, as opposed to setting up a single shot where all the action and dialogue is in one continuous shot.
- No Montage shots – I love Montage shots. I use them in all of my films. And I also see them in almost every film today. I use them in the beginning of my films to create and set-up the world of my film. The use of montage can bring the audience into your film in a very easy and complete way. I’ll give you an example: my most recent film HUNGRY takes place at Christmas time. And because my budget was small, what I did was have 6-8 shots showing different scenes of Christmas, along with beautiful Holiday music. So in a very short period of time 30-45 seconds, I was able to pull the audience into this wonderful time of year, and then led them into the story. So regarding Bazin’s belief that montage should not be used in filmmaking, I disagree. But then I don’t have the budget to do anything else.
In conclusion, Andre Bazin lived in another time…an earlier time, in the world of filmmaking. It was really the beginning of making movies, and there were still discoveries yet to be made. Filmmaking styles, cameras, lighting equipment and techniques, advances in sound have exploded. And lets not forget digital cameras… that has now enabled anyone to be a filmmaker. I feel that Mr. Bazin’s theories are still valid and still hold up. But as with all artistic endeavors, it is based on the individuals taste, experience and vision. And in Hollywood today, the possibilities are truly endless. Make the most of the tools you have.
About The Author:
John Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make short films on demand. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world. Check out his short film: HUNGRY at No Title Production Films.